India and Pakistan are engaging in violent confrontation again and soldiers have been killed on both sides. This flare-up of violence has come immediately after foreign ministries from both countries were improving their relations after the complete rupture following the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which were blamed by India on Pakistan-based militants.
A Pakistani soldier was killed earlier this week, and a few days later two Indian soldiers were killed in a firefight that erupted when Indian forces found a Pakistani patrol 500 metres inside Indian territory.
One of those bodies was alleged to have been mutilated, which has naturally infuriated India, leading Salman Khurshid, Indian foreign minister, to promise a “proportionate” response.
This heightening of tension serves to help the military agendas in both countries. At such a time, when popular fury is running high in both countries, it is very hard for politicians to insist that maintaining good relations must be a priority, and it is all too easy to slip into nationalist fervour and stoke the violence. This will not help in the long run as both countries need to strive to normalise their relations.
Therefore, everyone needs to make every effort to minimise the damage done by this kind of incident, which should not stop or change the important confidence-building measures that have started.
For example, in September former foreign minister S.M. Krishna signed a new visa agreement with Rahman Malek, the Pakistani interior minister, which eased visa restrictions for travellers. This pact was seen as a useful step to warming relations and should not be allowed to stop.
Another example at a more popular level is the full series of cricket matches between India and Pakistan planned for August this year. The crisis should not derail these matches, even if the Board for Control of Cricket in India has ruled out sending its team to Pakistan due to security concerns and also ruled out playing at a neutral venue.